The Song of the Bell [*]
Fast in its prison-walls of earth, Awaits the mould of baked clay. Up, comrades, up, and aid the birth — The bell that shall be born today! Who would honor obtain, With the sweat and the pain, The praise that man gives to the master must buy! — But the blessing withal must descend from on high! And well an earnest word beseems The work the earnest hand prepares; Its load more light the labor deems, When sweet discourse the labor shares. So let us ponder — nor in vain — What strength can work when labor wills; For who would not the fool disdain Who ne'er designs what he fulfils? And well it stamps our human race, And hence the gift to understand, That man within the heart should trace Whate'er he fashions with the hand. From the fir the faggot take, Keep it, heap it hard and dry, That the gathered flame may break Through the furnace, wroth and high. When the copper within Seethes and simmers — the tin Pour quick, that the fluid that feeds the bell May flow in the right course glib and well. Deep hid within this nether cell, What force with fire is molding thus In yonder airy tower shall dwell, And witness wide and far of us! It shall, in later days, unfailing, Rouse many an ear to rapt emotion; Its solemn voice with sorrow wailing, Or choral chiming to devotion. Whatever fate to man may bring, Whatever weal or woe befall, That metal tongue shall backward ring The warning moral drawn from all. See the silvery bubbles spring! Good! the mass is melting now! Let the salts we duly bring Purge the flood, and speed the flow. From the dross and the scum, Pure, the fusion must come; For perfect and pure we the metal must keep, That its voice may be perfect, and pure, and deep. That voice, with merry music rife, The cherished child shall welcome in, What time the rosy dreams of life In the first slumber's arms begin; As yet in time's dark womb unwarning, Repose the days, or foul or fair, And watchful o'er that golden morning, The mother-love's untiring care! And swift the years like arrows fly — No more with girls content to play, Fast in its prison-walls of earth, Awaits the mold of baked clay. Up, comrades, up, and aid the birth — The bell that shall be born to-day! Bounds the proud boy upon his way, Storms through loud life's tumultuous pleasures, With pilgrim staff the wide world measures; And, wearied with the wish to roam, Again seeks, stranger-like, the father-home. And, lo, as some sweet vision breaks Out from its native morning skies, With rosy shame on downcast cheeks, The virgin stands before his eyes. A nameless longing seizes him! From all his wild companions flown; Tears, strange till then, his eyes bedim; He wanders all alone. Blushing, he glides where'er she move; Her greeting can transport him; To every mead to deck his love, The happy wild flowers court him! Sweet hope — and tender longing — ye The growth of life's first age of gold, When the heart, swelling, seems to see The gates of heaven unfold! O Love, the beautiful and brief! O prime, Glory, and verdure, of life's summertime! Browning o'er, the pipes are simmering, Dip this wand of clay within; If like glass the wand be glimmering, Then the casting may begin. Brisk, brisk now, and see If the fusion flow free; If — (happy and welcome indeed were the sign!) If the hard and the ductile united combine. For still where the strong is betrothed to the weak, And the stern in sweet marriage is blent with the meek, Rings the concord harmonious, both tender and strong: So be it with thee, if forever united, The heart to the heart flows in one, love-delighted; Illusion is brief, but repentance is long. Lovely, thither are they bringing, With her virgin wreath, the bride! To the love-feast clearly ringing, Tolls the church-bell far and wide! With that sweetest holyday, Must the May of life depart; With the cestus loosed — away Flies illusion from the heart! Yet love lingers lonely, When passion is mute, And the blossoms may only Give way to the fruit. The husband must enter The hostile life; With struggle and strife, To plant or to watch, To snare or to snatch, To pray and importune, Must wager and venture And hunt down his fortune! Then flows in a current the gear and the gain, And the garners are filled with the gold of the grain, Now a yard to the court, now a wing to the centre!
[Excerpt from a cycle of illustrations for this poem by Schiller’s sister, Christophine (Gustav Könnecke, Bilderatlas zur Geschichte der deutschen Nationallitteratur, 2nd ed. [Marburg 1895], 314):]
Within sits another, The thrifty housewife; The mild one, the mother — Her home is her life. In its circle she rules, And the daughters she schools, And she cautions the boys, With a bustling command, And a diligent hand Employed she employs; Gives order to store, And the much makes the more; Locks the chest and the wardrobe, with lavender smelling, And the hum of the spindle goes quick through the dwelling, And she hoards in the presses, well polished and full, The snow of the linen, the shine of the wool; Blends the sweet with the good, and from care and endeavor Rests never! Blithe the master (where the while From his roof he sees them smile) Eyes the lands, and counts the gain; There, the beams projecting far, And the laden store-house are, And the granaries bowed beneath The blessed golden grain; There, in undulating motion, Wave the corn-fields like an ocean. Proud the boast the proud lips breathe: — "My house is built upon a rock, And sees unmoved the stormy shock Of waves that fret below!" What chain so strong, what girth so great, To bind the giant form of fate? — Swift are the steps of woe. Now the casting may begin; See the breach indented there: Ere we run the fusion in, Halt — and speed the pious prayer! Pull the bung out — See around and about What vapor, what vapor — God help us! — has risen? — Ha! the flame like a torrent leaps forth from its prison! What friend is like the might of fire When man can watch and wield the ire? Whate'er we shape or work, we owe Still to that heaven-descended glow. But dread the heaven-descended glow, When from their chain its wild wings go, When, where it listeth, wide and wild Sweeps the free nature's free-born child! When the frantic one fleets, While no force can withstand, Through the populous streets Whirling ghastly the brand; For the element hates What man's labor creates, And the work of his hand! Impartially out from the cloud, Or the curse or the blessing may fall! Benignantly out from the cloud, Come the dews, the revivers of all! Avengingly out from the cloud Come the levin, the bolt, and the ball! Hark — a wail from the steeple! — aloud The bell shrills its voice to the crowd! Look — look — red as blood All on high! It is not the daylight that fills with its flood The sky! What a clamor awaking Roars up through the street! What a hell-vapor breaking Rolls on through the street! And higher and higher Aloft moves the column of fire! Through the vistas and rows Like a whirlwind it goes, And the air like the steam from a furnace glows. Beams are crackling — posts are shrinking — Walls are sinking — windows clinking Children crying — Mothers flying — And the beast (the black ruin yet smoldering under) Yells the howl of its pain and its ghastly wonder! Hurry and skurry — away — away, The face of the night is as clear as day! As the links in a chain, Again and again Flies the bucket from hand to hand; High in arches up-rushing The engines are gushing, And the flood, as a beast on the prey that it hounds, With a roar on the breast of the element bounds. To the grain and the fruits, Through the rafters and beams, Through the barns and the garners it crackles and streams! As if they would rend up the earth from its roots, Rush the flames to the sky Giant-high; And at length, Wearied out and despairing, man bows to their strength! With an idle gaze sees their wrath consume, And submits to his doom! Desolate The place, and dread For storms the barren bed! In the blank voids that cheerful casements were, Comes to and fro the melancholy air, And sits despair; And through the ruin, blackening in its shroud, Peers, as it flits, the melancholy cloud. One human glance of grief upon the grave Of all that Fortune gave The loiterer takes — then turns him to depart, And grasps the wanderer's staff and mans his heart: Whatever else the element bereaves One blessing more than all it reft — it leaves The face that he loves! — He counts them o'er, See — not one look is missing from that store! Now clasped the bell within the clay — The mold the mingled metals fill — Oh, may it, sparkling into day, Reward the labor and the skill! Alas! should it fail, For the mold may be frail — And still with our hope must be mingled the fear — And, ev'n now, while we speak, the mishap may be near! To the dark womb of sacred earth This labor of our hands is given, As seeds that wait the second birth, And turn to blessings watched by heaven! Ah seeds, how dearer far than they We bury in the dismal tomb, Where Hope and Sorrow bend to pray That suns beyond the realm of day May warm them into bloom! From the steeple Tolls the bell, Deep and heavy, The death-knell, Guiding with dirge-note — solemn, sad, and slow, To the last home earth's weary wanderers know. It is that worshipped wife — It is that faithful mother! Whom the dark Prince of Shadows leads benighted, From that dear arm where oft she hung delighted. Far from those blithe companions, born Of her, and blooming in their morn; On whom, when couched her heart above, So often looked the mother-love! Ah! rent the sweet home's union-band, And never, never more to come — She dwells within the shadowy land, Who was the mother of that home! How oft they miss that tender guide, The care — the watch — the face — the mother — And where she sate the babes beside, Sits with unloving looks — another! While the mass is cooling now, Let the labor yield to leisure, As the bird upon the bough, Loose the travail to the pleasure. When the soft stars awaken! Each task be forsaken! And the vesper-bell, lulling the earth into peace, If the master still toil, chimes the workman's release! Homeward from the tasks of day, Through the greenwood's welcome way Wends the wanderer, blithe and cheerily, To the cottage loved so dearly! And the eye and ear are meeting, Now, the slow sheep homeward bleating; Now, the wonted shelter near, Lowing the lusty-fronted steer Creaking now the heavy wain, Reels with the happy harvest grain; While, with many-colored leaves, Glitters the garland on the sheaves; For the mower's work is done, And the young folks' dance begun! Desert street, and quiet mart; — Silence is in the city's heart; And the social taper lighteth Each dear face that home uniteth; While the gate the town before Heavily swings with sullen roar! Though darkness is spreading O'er earth — the upright And the honest, undreading, Look safe on the night Which the evil man watches in awe, For the eye of the night is the law! Bliss-dowered! O daughter of the skies, Hail, holy order, whose employ Blends like to like in light and joy — Builder of cities, who of old Called the wild man from waste and wold, And, in his but thy presence stealing, Roused each familiar household feeling, And, best of all, the happy ties, The centre of the social band — The Instinct of the Fatherland! United thus — each helping each, Brisk work the countless hands forever; For naught its power to strength can teach, Like emulation and endeavor! Thus linked the master with the man, Each in his rights can each revere, And while they march in freedom's van, Scorn the lewd rout that dogs the rear! To freemen labor is renown! Who works — gives blessings and commands; Kings glory in the orb and crown — Be ours the glory of our hands, Long in these walls — long may we greet Your footfalls, pand concord sweet! Distant the day, oh! distant far, When the rude hordes of trampling War Shall scare the silent vale — The where Now the sweet heaven, when day doth leave The air, Limns its soft rose-hues on the veil of Eve — Shall the fierce war-brand, tossing in the gale, From town and hamlet shake the horrent glare! Now, its destined task fulfilled, Asunder break the prison-mold; Let the goodly bell we build, Eye and heart alike behold. The hammer down heave, Till the cover it cleave: — For not till we shatter the wall of its cell Can we lift from its darkness and bondage the bell. To break the mold the master may, If skilled the hand and ripe the hour; But woe, when on its fiery way The metal seeks itself to pour, Frantic and blind, with thunder-knell, Exploding from its shattered home, And glaring forth, as from a hell, Behold the red destruction come! When rages strength that has no reason, There breaks the mold before the season; When numbers burst what bound before, Woe to the state that thrives no more! Yea, woe, when in the city's heart, The latent spark to flame is blown, "Freedom! Equality!" — to blood And millions from their silence start, To claim, without a guide, their own! Discordant howls the warning bell, Proclaiming discord wide and far, And, born but things of peace to tell, Becomes the ghastliest voice of war: "Freedom! Equality!" — to blood Rush the roused people at the sound! Through street, hall, palace, roars the flood, And banded murder closes round! The hyena-shapes (that women were!) Jest with the horrors they survey; They hound — they rend — they mangle there, As panthers with their prey! Naught rests to hallow — burst the ties Of life's sublime and reverent awe; Before the vice the virtue flies, And universal crime is Law! Man fears the lion's kingly tread; Man fears the tiger's fangs of terror; And still, the dreadliest of the dread, Is man himself in error! No torch, though lit from heaven, illumes The blind! — Why place it in his hands? It lights not him — it but consumes The city and the land! Rejoice and laud the prospering skies! The kernel bursts its husks — behold From the dull clay the metal rise, Pure-shining, as a star of gold! Neck and lip, but as one beam, It laughs like a sunbeam. And even the scutcheon, clear-graven, shall tell That the art of a master has fashioned the bell! Come in — come in, My merry men — we'll form a ring The new-born labor christening; And "concord" we will name her! To union may her heart-felt call In brother-love attune us all! May she the destined glory win For which the master sought to frame her — Aloft — (all earth's existence under) In blue-pavilioned heaven afar To dwell — the neighbor of the thunder, The borderer of the star! Be hers above a voice to raise Like those bright hosts in yonder sphere, Who, while they move, their maker praise, And lead around the wreathèd year! To solemn and eternal things We dedicate her lips sublime, As hourly, calmly, on she swings, Fanned by the fleeting wings of time! No pulse — no heart — no feeling hers! She lends the warning voice to fate; And still companions, while she stirs, The changes of the human state! So may she teach us, as her tone But now so mighty, melts away — That earth no life which earth has known From the last silence can delay! Slowly now the cords upheave her! From her earth-grave soars the bell; 'Mid the airs of heaven we leave her! In the music-realm to dwell! Up — upwards — yet raise — She has risen — she sways. Fair bell to our city bode joy and increase, And oh, may thy first sound be hallowed to peace.
[*] The Works of Frederick Schiller: Poems (New York 1895), 223–35. Except as noted in the text, illustrations from The Song of the Bell, trans. J. Perry Worden (Halle 1900), plates following pp. 60, 68, 80, 92, 104, 128. Back.